Witnesses Discuss What Makes for Successful K-12 STEM Education

Oct 12, 2011
Witnesses Discuss What Makes for Successful K-12 STEM Education

Washington, D.C. – Today, the Subcommittee on Research and Science Education held a hearing to review and examine the findings of the National Research Council (NRC) report, Successful K-12 STEM Education: Identifying Effective Approaches in Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics, as requested by Congress in 2009 to identify highly successful K-12 schools and programs in science, technology, engineering and math (STEM). 

In his opening statement, Research and Science Education Subcommittee Chairman Mo Brooks (R-AL) noted the importance of early STEM Education. “Whether we are preparing students for advanced degrees in STEM or ensuring that young adults have the scientific and mathematic literacy to thrive in a 21st century technology-based economy, the foundation for both of these begins in our K-12 schools,” Brooks said.

The Report looked at three criteria necessary to identify successful K-12 schools, including student outcomes, specialized STEM schools and programs, and effective classroom instruction.  Dr. Adam Gamoran, Director of the Wisconsin Center for Education Research at the University of Wisconsin and Chairman of the Report, acknowledged that while a number of research gaps continue to exist, “careful assessment of existing research is valuable not only because of the findings it reveals, but also because it helps identify gaps in our knowledge that need to be filled before we can fully answer questions about highly successful STEM schools and programs.”

All witnesses agreed that assessments beyond test scores and strong teacher preparation are  important, but Dr. Suzanne Wilson, Chair of the Department of Teacher Education in STEM fields at Michigan State University and  a Report workshop participant,  highlighted that  “there are over 1,200 teacher preparation programs at universities;  another 130 ‘alternative routes,’ and at least as many induction programs.”  She continued, “There are 1,500 school districts in the U.S. and each has an entirely independent portfolio of professional training for its teachers…Considerable personal, public, state, and federal resources are poured into teacher development programs.  Despite the investment of these material and human resources, teachers seldom receive coordinated guidance about what they should study or have opportunity to select professional development that builds on their previous experiences. This is irresponsible. It has adverse effects for our young people and on our Nation’s position in a rapidly changing world and global economy.”

Dr. Elaine Allensworth, Senior Director and Chief Research Officer at the Consortium on Chicago School Research who was also a Report workshop participant, emphasized that it takes more than teacher preparation, because good teachers will not stay at bad schools.  She said, “We need well-organized schools to make good use of high-quality curriculum, respond to accountability standards, and retain good teachers.”  The Report highlights good school organization and culture as also including strong school administrative leadership and parent and community involvement.

Testifying as the director of the STEM-focused Denver School for Science and Technology middle and high school program, Mr. Mark Heffron echoed the need to change school culture and the way students view their education. “We believe the success of any school must be rooted in a strong school culture that focuses on building character and creating an accountable environment that expects all students to be college ready,” Heffron said.  “A peer-driven culture is reflected in each of our schools where going to college is cool and expected.” 

The following witnesses testified before the Committee:

Dr. Adam Gamoran, Director, Wisconsin Center for Education Research, University of Wisconsin

Mr. Mark Heffron, Director, Denver School of Science and Technology:  Stapleton High School

Dr. Suzanne Wilson, Chair, Department of Teacher Education, Division of Science and Math Education, Michigan State University

Dr. Elaine Allensworth, Senior Director and Chief Research Officer, Consortium on Chicago School Research, University of Chicago

Dr. Barbara Means, Director, Center for Technology in Learning, SRI International